Cosmic balance, parasitic blooms, self reliance

Also: Avalanche school and houseplant heists

Surely the cosmic balance must be nearly restored. After traveling most of December, nearly three weeks in all, since returning to New York I have been forced into monkish retreat by the weight of impending deadlines as well as a multiweek illness that has only just released me from its clutches. I can’t help but note that this semi-compulsory, semi-seclusion has lasted nearly as long as my purported vacation, as though I’m being punished for daring to take time off. Of course, a voice on my other shoulder points out that I continued to work at least part-time up until December 20, so that’s ridiculous, and anyway, it’s ridiculous no matter what, but there’s a reason that 92 percent of freelancers feel like they can’t take a nonworking vacation.

I am very much looking forward to feeling 100% very, very soon, so that I can: turn in a solid (near perfect) draft of the feature I’m working on; start pitching again; send Pinch of Dirt out every week; do the mountains of laundry that have been piling up; walk outside without coughing or wheezing; get back into a regular running routine; and start training for the Great Saunter. I have every confidence these things will come to pass, for the most part, I’m just ready for them now.


The list

Happy new year! The world’s largest Rafflesia tuan-mudae bloomed “perfectly” on New Year’s Day. Gaze upon its parasitic beauty:

Must read: Emily Raboteau kept a diary last year of her conversations about climate change. It’s difficult reading, but there is power in the steady accumulation of observations—some known, some familiar, some about catastrophes already forgotten, or events big and small that never even made it into my news feed.

Odell on Emerson: I have not read Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, although I think if I did I would probably like it. But I still enjoyed her musings on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays and the myth of self reliance for The Paris Review. Fascinatingly, the essay appears to be to some extent an apology for oversights in her book, in response to some of her critics. Here’s the crucial bit:

Unexpectedly, everything congealed in that moment: the different rooms, the drawing, The Fountainhead, “Self Reliance,” and the critiques I had seen of How to Do Nothing…I saw that I had absorbed from my family and my upbringing a specific brand of individualism, valorizing and transmitting it unknowingly. I’d done this throughout my entire life, but especially in How to Do Nothing. Around my favored versions of contemplative solitude, so similar to Emerson’s, a whole suite of circumstances appeared in full relief, like something coming into focus. The women in the kitchen made the mens’ conversation possible, just as my trip to the mountain—and really all of my time spent walking, observing, and courting the “over-soul”—rested upon a long list of privileges, from the specific (owning a car, having the time), to the general (able-bodied, upper-middle-class, half white and half “model minority,” a walkable neighborhood in a desirable city, and more). There was an entire infrastructure around my experience of freedom, and I’d been so busy chasing it that I hadn’t seen it.

If anything, this only makes me want to read the book more, to see what all the fuss was about.

The pub at the end of the walk: I loved this story by Oliver Smith for Outside Magazine about the 27-mile walk across remote Scottish wilderness to a famous pub called the Old Forge. It’s one of the stories I knew would be bittersweet because I wish I had written it, but also, it turns out, because the Old Forge that was, is no more. It was bought out by an outsider who has tried to change its essential nature, and closed the pub down during the long winter months, prompting locals to open a competing gathering place just across the way. Of course, I’m now desperate to make the trek myself.

Why am I here? I also really enjoyed reading Heidi Julavits on avalanche school in The New York Times Magazine. It reminded me of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, but more in line with my interests. Highly recommend.

Houseplant heists: Writing for The Guardian, Gray Chapman reports that as plants have become increasingly valuable status symbols, stealing cuttings and “proplifting” has become a big problem. This was a fun companion piece to a podcast I’ve recently started listening to called “Plant Crimes.”


P.S.

Pinch of Dirt is brought to you by Jessica McKenzie. Please forgive any typos, she’s just one human. The complete archives are now behind a paywall, but you can become a paying subscriber for unfettered online access, and to show your support for this newsletter. If that’s not in the cards, or in your budget, don’t worry: free sign-ups will still receive every issue in their inboxes.

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Vacation factoids

The dark side of the moon and Yesterday's Camel

I have learned several things since arriving in Los Angeles on Tuesday, which I would like to share with you. The first,

1. is that the Dark Side of the moon is NOT, in fact, dark, and receives just as much light as the side we can see from Earth. Mind Blown! This I learned at Griffith Observatory, but I picked up a few extra facts on Wikipedia. For example, the Near Side or Light Side of the moon or whatever receives additional sunlight reflected from the earth, which is called “earthshine.”

The second,

2. is that there were CAMELS in Ice Age Los Angeles, commonly called Yesterday's Camel, or the Western Camel or American Camel. I learned about them at the La Brea Tar Pits, which were really fucking cool.

This will be the last newsletter of the month, but I’ll be back in your inboxes after the New Year. Happy holidays, and thank you for reading!


Reading list

I’ve been in work-lite mode since arriving in California a little over a week ago, so I haven’t been reading much other than my junky Stephen King novel (IT), but I did write a short piece about one of my favorite collections of short stories, The Animal-Lover’s Tale of Beastly Murder, for the vegan magazine Tenderly, and “Patricia Highsmith’s Uncommon Empathy for Animals.” You can read it here!

And, because I’m not (that) afraid of using copyrighted images, here are some photos of Patricia Highsmith with cats <3:


Pinch of Dirt is brought to you by Jessica McKenzie. Please forgive any typos, she’s just one human. The complete archives are now behind a paywall, but you can become a paying subscriber for unfettered online access (and to show support for this newsletter). If that’s not in the cards, don’t worry: free sign-ups will still receive every issue in their inboxes.

If you enjoyed this dispatch, consider forwarding it to your friends. Or you can click the heart button below, which will help internet strangers find this newsletter. <3

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